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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday October 22 2010

A comment by James Waterton on this, deserves to be a blog posting in its own right:

A former colleague of mine was one of those exceedingly cerebral Russian science/maths boffins. He would teach maths in English for four months of the year to rich Chinese high school grads destined to study in the West. Then for the remaining 8 months of the year, he’d burn through the money he earned working on whatever mad scientist projects he could dream up. An extremely intelligent but also mild-mannered and courteous gentleman.

I had a number of chats with this man, and once sounded him out regarding his political views. He told me that his ideal political system was one where the more educated and intelligent you could prove yourself to be, the more votes you would receive in an election. Furthermore, access to public office would be made easier based on the same criteria. I remember finding this amusing. It seems obvious to me that out of all the countries that have been ill-served by extremely intelligent people (and there are many), Russia would have to have suffered the most under the yoke of the super smart who thought they were so intelligent that they had the right to tell those who they saw as less intelligent how to live.

The irony that this borderline genius still wasn’t smart enough to heed the abundantly clear lesson from his country’s past, and would, in his ‘perfect world’, introduce something similar, was not lost on me. Clearly people like this should be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.

And now it is.

It is known that brilliance in one particular area does not guarantee equal (or even some) competency in another. Rather the opposite.

Math geniuses might be great as computer analysts or programmers but disastrous as business administrators. Great businessmen are hopeless idiots, politics-wise (see Soros, George or Bloomberg, Michael). And lawyers might be spectacular at speeches (from Robespierre to Lenin to Obama), but display very poor judgment in everything else.

I’d left each to practice their trade and not to get means to bend others to their ideas outside of it.

To your original article (sorry, I can’t comment on Samizdata, being banned by Perry):
I agree wholeheartedly. As long as basic understanding lies in the foundation of me and Republican politicians, I would vote for them But once some of them start questioning separation of church and state, like O’Donnell did - nope, sorry, don’t count on my vote.
I guess it’s the question of personal priorities, of holding certain truths dearer than the others.

And another thing I agree with you on: that I suspect those who will be elected to be quickly corrupted by the newly-acquired power, too.

Ah, I live for a long time and been disappointed too many times to count…

Posted by Tatyana on 23 October 2010

"It is known that brilliance in one particular area does not guarantee equal (or even some) competency in another. Rather the opposite.”

Indeed.  People who are brilliant in one thing, who also think that brilliance in that guarantees brilliance elsewhere, can then be far worse in other fields.

An averagely capable person, suggesting stupid things in a field he knows little about, is likely to be suitably humble.  A person of great achievement elsewhere is awfully liable not to be humble, but to regard his excellence elsewhere as proof of his excellence in this new field.

You see that a lot.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 23 October 2010

To paraphrase William F. Buckley: I’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Blagoveshensk telephone directory than by the faculty of any university.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 24 October 2010

Antoine

Yes, I’ve had that Buckley quote rattling around in my head for the last few weeks.

Thanks to the Tea Party, something like this looks like it might be about to happen for real, and then we’ll see.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 24 October 2010

Of relevance perhaps:

One thing that was mentioned in the comments and the linked article in a recent discussion of Paul Krugman on Samizdata was Krugman’s love of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, in which a group of super-smart academics (led by Professor Hari Seldon) are appointed to run a cabal that uses super smart science to guide civilization through a period of crisis and prevent the downfall of civilization.

This is slightly troubling, as various other people have also been fans of these books, and have found the vision of themselves as super-smart autocratic rulers in them to be attractive. Newt Gingrich for one, but also some more sinister people. The Aum Shinrikyo cult that attacked Tokyo with nerve gas in 1995 were apparently huge fans of the books and saw themselves as this kind of cabal. The most troubling of all perhaps is that one translation of “The Foundation” into Arabic would be “Al-Qaeda”. There is much speculation that Osama bin Laden admired Asimov’s books in much the same way, although one expects that his organisation might find Asimov’s Jewishness somewhat problematic.

Of course, Asimov himself was much more ambivalent about all this. He stopped writing the Foundation series (despite its being clearly incomplete) in 1950, apparently at least partly because he was becoming a little uncomfortable with the fact that the supposed heroes of the books were in fact tyrants. He wrote a couple of sequels in the 1980s, at the end of which the Foundation essentially loses, possibly because Asimov wasn’t especially comfortable with the idea of it winning.

On the other hand, he then wrote a couple of prequels, in which Hari Seldon and the Foundation were again the heroes, and Asimov seemed to be presenting Seldon as something of an alter-ego, so although he did at least partly understand where these ideas led, he still found them attractive.

Asimov was of course Russian. (Yes, okay, he spent most of his life in the US, but his writing has a very Russian sensibility to it just the same).

Posted by Michael Jennings on 25 October 2010
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